Xian Hawkins has seemingly been a very busy man in the last year. In addition to this full-length release, he collaborated with Sonna and Lilienthal on the recent Make Shift Carousel EP, as well as contributing a batch of tracks for the limited-edition Travel In Constants series (also on the Temporary Residence label). Nonument, however, is his first release on the 4AD label, and in addition to it, he released a limited-edition single entitled "Scene Of The Crime" to proceed it (the track, with Jennifer Charles of Elysian Fields, unfortunately doesn't appear anywhere on this full-length).
Technically, this release is also his real first full-length, as his previous two albums were a score for a film (musicforafilm, for the film Kill Me Tomorrow) and a collection of singles (Placement Issues). If you've heard any of those releases, you know that he has a great knack for combining the organic and electronic, and that continues to an even greater extent on this new release, as Hawkins embraces his multi-instrumentalist talent even more, as well as incorporating vocals into tracks for the first time ever.
As I mentioned in my review for Placement Issues, Sybarite makes music that flows like gently rolling hills. The first track of "Secropia" makes all these things apparent, as horns mix with music boxes and vibraphones and plucks of stringed instruments give the track a downright classical feel. Subtle waves of static ocassionally threaten to take the track off course, but it steers back to the middle and ends with some live drumming that pulls everything together. "The Fourth Day" follows it up, and it's the first track on the release with vocals (by Brooke Williams). Again, the track moves along at a very measured pace, and the one-syllable, almost monotone vocals feel less organic than one would expect as cutup guitars skitter behind and a flute melody brightens the chorus.
The album takes a slightly different turn from the lighter, pastoral sounds on "Renzo Piano," and it's one of the more successful tracks on the disc. Rumbling with some amazingly thick low-end, the track moves into bassbin shaking dub territory, with plenty of clicks and squirts over the top to keep things interesting. Keeping things rolling along, "Water" follows up with more rumbling programmed beats and vocals by Gregory Kenney. Again, stringed instruments rise up and chopped guitars chirp ocassionally, but it's probably the most pop-oriented track on the release.
If I have one complaint about the release, it's that it simply sounds a little too restrained and precise. There are moments where it seems like the album might break out a little bit more (the haywire radio blips and live drumming on "Unica Zurn" is a good start), but instead the album sort of reels itself in again and the tracks continue on their merry way. Granted, the above argument could also be used as something that's so great about the album. Instead of having to worry about things going all schizo, one can simply sit back and soak in the warm sounds. Cinematic, pastoral, and sometimes pretty, Nonument is still a solid little album, and definitely a release to check out if you like soothing organic/electronic music.